Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh Dina Meyer
While unfortunate to see, the law of diminishing returns eventually hits many franchises as the best ideas have already been used but the show must still go on. Saw 3 represents this first dip in the franchise of gore and torture. While having a similar format to the stories preceding it, this feature does not create a fulfilling narrative through its characters and a philosophical message that certainly does not hold water.
With Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) on the brink of death, his follower, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) kidnaps a doctor named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), who must keep the serial killer alive to witness one more game or else the doctor will die. Meanwhile, a grieving father, Jeff (Angus Macfayden) must go through this latest run of games involving individuals responsible for his son’s death.
As seen with the previous films, Jigsaw has the philosophy of putting people in death traps but presenting them with the opportunity to escape if they play the game. Psychotic behavior, yes, but in his mind, he’s doing this for the good of the people. This little nugget gets overshadowed in the previous stories because it takes a backseat to the exhilarating thrills they wanted to present, but the serial killer’s philosophy comes center stage in this feature as all characters have major decisions to make, including his sidekick, Amanda.
Revealing her to be working for Jigsaw shows a very different person than the one seen in the first feature and what she represents in this feature digs into the ideas of what Jigsaw believes and how it can translate to others. A classic case of an apprentice stepping up to prove their place to their teacher and this film becomes a test for Amanda and whether she deserves to carry on the name of Jigsaw. As a result, we get to see plenty with this character and Shawnee Smith turns up the volume with her unhinged nature. The cracks in how she relates to Jigsaw begin to form as they differ both in how they carry out their traps and their overall demeanor. She certainly has the attitude of someone who would cause these traps while Tobin Bell’s performance as Jigsaw portrays a mild-mannered old man. These differences become key.
The tests in this threequel come with Jeff having to confront the individuals involved with his son’s vehicular death, with him essentially having to save these people in order to forgive them while also trying to move on. It’s fairly hilarious Jigsaw cares so much about the feelings of others to the point where he wants to help others process their grief. Each room Jeff enters brings about a different person involved with complex contraptions and while some of them have some fun attached to them, they don’t really have the impact the film desires. One instance comes about where the judge who left the driver off with a slap on the wrist in the eyes of Jeff must be saved by the grieving father burning toys that belonged to his deceased son. The game makes sense, but Jeff, as a character, feels so underdeveloped that it became difficult to really care for what occurred in these games. This certainly was not missing from the previous films and did not come together in an impactful manner.
In all reality, what sinks this film comes from the lackluster reveal. These films live on the death traps but also finding out the way Jigsaw manipulates the characters and the audience with a specific reveal putting all the pieces together. With uninteresting traps to follow and an Amanda, who just has this strange rage throughout the feature, the only thing that could have potentially saved it would be the reveal. Unfortunately, this did not deliver as well as the discussions about his philosophy are plainly stupid, for a lack of better words, and the idea this ultimately defines how the film concludes shows this franchise was running out of steam.
The law of diminishing returns hits most franchises eventually and for the Saw franchise, it began here. Focusing too much on a bullshit philosophy the character has, this feature feels undeveloped, rather boring with its trap construction, and characters not worth following for such a bloated runtime. The intentionality has some merit but the way it all comes together left me wanting much more, especially coming from the success of the first two films. You can’t win them all eventually, as seen through Amanda and the overall quality of this feature.